Beware Of The Ghost Of Victor Zambrano

Lou CappettaAnalyst IIJuly 20, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 18:  Victor Zambrano #38 of the New York Mets walks off the field after the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves on April 18, 2006 at Shea Stadium in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

So far, this has been the summer of my discontent.

This should have been a great summer. My son Anthony made the Lehigh Valley traveling All-Star team for baseball, helping his team become the first from our area to be named district champions (they would go on to finish fifth overall in the entire state of Pennsylvania), my youngest daughter is preparing for Kindergarten, I was able to get free tickets to Citi Field, sitting only four rows from the visiting dugout, and my family and I were finally able to take a small vacation, our first since moving into the home we purchased over two years ago.

Sounds like a great summer. Too bad the Mets have gone and ruined it.

Since May, when Mets players began dropping like flies and my spirits this summer have slowly deteriorated. It was torture to watch every team in our division struggle, including the reigning champs, while watching the Mets play uninspired, fundamentally poor, inconsistent baseball, missing every opportunity to take control of the NL East.

As I watched more poor baseball, more players ended up on the disabled list, and more wasted efforts by our ace, I realized something.

The Mets were still in it.

Sure reserve baseball players and uninspired play are a recipe for disaster, but no matter how hard the Mets tried, they seemed to be unable to play themselves out of contention. Maybe, just maybe, they were a team of destiny in 2009. Maybe, something Amazin' was about to happen.

I'll admit it, I was a believer.

I wrote articles about how the Mets were in good shape, despite all that has plagued them in 2009. I wrote an article about the Mets keys to a successful second half.

I even feverishly scoured major league rosters in an attempt to find players that Omar Minaya could acquire to help put the Mets over the top and turned it into a slide show.

Yup, the Mets had duped me into believing they were a contender. Just like they did in 2004.

I remember it like it was yesterday.

The Mets had swept the cross-town rival Yankees at Shea Stadium during the July 4 weekend. The three wins put a charge into the Mets, who had been mediocre at best since losing the 2000 World Series, and by the time the trade deadline rolled around, the Mets found themselves in contention, only four games out of the playoff picture.

Most of us Mets fans bought into the hype. We were charmed by the juggernaut outfield platoon of Shane Spencer and Karim Garcia. We were in awe at how Tom Glavine was still able to beat us even while wearing a Mets uniform. We were in absolute amazement at how Braden Looper could make us miss Armando Benitez.

Seriously though, in retrospect, the only true bright spot of that season was the debut of David Wright.

In 2004, however, we were blinded by the standings. It didn't matter that Mike Piazza was beginning to show his age, or that Mike Cameron, despite belting 30 home runs that year, would muster almost twice as many strikeouts as RBI. The Mets kept selling us the standings, and we kept buying.

So the Mets decided to be buyers when the trade deadline rolled around, figuring a major move could put them over the top and into the postseason. Much to the delight of fans, the Mets were able to make not one move, but two.

The first trade was a no-brainer.

The Mets sent Ty Wiggington, who now had no position since the Mets had decided to commit to David Wright at third base, Jose Bautista, and a minor league player to the Pirates for pitcher Kris Benson.

Benson was a young starter, with excellent stuff, who figured to fare better than he did in Pittsburgh if he were on a contending team. The move bolstered the staff, while also injecting youth into a rotation that was a bit long in the tooth.

The second trade, however had mixed reviews at the time, and has since gone down with Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi as quite possibly the worst trade in New York Mets history.

It was prized prospect Scott Kazmir to Tampa Bay for Victor Zambrano.

Zambrano was a decent pitcher with great stuff (he did have a career winning record pitching for some dreadful Tampa Bay teams) who just couldn't find the plate. Pitching coach Rick Peterson, doing his best Bobby V impression, told Mets brass that he could fix Zambrano.

The Mets, who were concerned that Kazmir's small frame and violent delivery would cause him to break down, decided to deal their best prospect, figuring the addition of Zambrano and Benson would give them a formidable staff, pushing them into the playoff picture.

Neither move worked for the short term, as the Mets would play dreadful baseball after the trades, finishing the season (and Art Howe's Mets career) with a record of 71-91, 25 games behind the division winning Atlanta Braves.

Neither move worked for the long term, either. Benson was an average pitcher at best, and his wife Anna's public sex-kitten persona angered the Wilpons so much that Benson was shipped out of town after making only 39 career starts in Queens. The only bright spot in the entire Benson deal, is that the Mets received John Maine from Baltimore in exchange for Benson.

Zambrano was a complete disaster. He would go 10-14 in a Mets uniform, and his ERA increased from 3.86 in 2004, to 4.17 in 2995, to 6.75 in only five starts in 2006.

Zambrano spent his entire time at Shea battling injury and control problems, while Kazmir would make his debut that season, and in only four years would help Tampa Bay go from laughing stock to American League Champions.

So maybe I should be happy that the Phillies are starting to pull away from the pack (they have yet to lose since the All Star break), or that the Mets can only win (and barely at that) when Johan Santana pitches. Maybe we should root for our star players not to return until AFTER July 31.

Maybe this free fall is for the best.

And now Mets fans, five years after we parted ways with a young fireballer named Scott Kazmir, I'm warning all of us Mets fans, beware of the ghost of Victor Zambrano.

And hopefully I won't be here in 2014 writing about a Fernando Martinez for Barry Zito trade.


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